Kazakhstan to Britain: Don't lecture us on human rights

ASTANA Mon Jul 1, 2013 2:34pm BST

1 of 3. Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron pays his respects after laying a wreath at the Monument of the Motherland Defenders in Astana July 1, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Leon Neal/POOL

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ASTANA (Reuters) - Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said on Monday nobody had the right to lecture his country after British Prime Minister David Cameron raised concerns about human rights in the former Soviet state.

In Kazakhstan on a brief visit which saw 700 million pounds of business deals, Cameron, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with Nazarbayev, said he had discussed "at length" allegations about government repression.

Nazarbayev was stony faced, underscoring the political risks of Cameron's strategy of broadening Britain's trade links to include emerging economies, such as Kazakhstan which sits on a wealth of oil reserves.

Cameron says Britain needs to diversify such links at a time when its economy is in the doldrums. But activists have accused him of putting trade before human rights, while the countries he is trying to court bridle at criticism of their rights records.

"I discussed for instance the letter written by Human Rights Watch, and the concerns in that letter," Cameron told a news conference in the Kazakh leader's presidential palace.

"It's very important we have a frank dialogue."

In the letter, which was sent on Friday, New York-based Human Rights Watch said it was worried about credible allegations of torture, the imprisonment of government critics, and tight controls over the media and freedom of expression.

It urged Cameron to tackle Nazarbayev on the subject.

Nazarbayev, a former Communist party apparatchik who has ruled Kazakhstan for more than 20 years, responded coldly.

"Thank you very much for the recommendations, for the advice, but nobody has a right to instruct us how to live," said Nazarbayev, who turns 73 this week and enjoys the official title of "The Leader of the Nation".

While activists say the rest of Central Asia has much harsher autocratic leaders than Nazarbayev, they say his refusal to tolerate opposition or dissent shows few signs of easing.

In particular, they say they are concerned about the case of Vladimir Kozlov, a jailed opposition leader of Kazakhstan.

An outspoken critic of Nazarbayev, Kozlov was jailed for seven-and-a-half years in October for colluding with a fugitive billionaire in a failed attempt to rally oil workers to bring down the government. Kozlov denied the charges.

Nazarbayev, who was a member of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's last Politburo of the Communist party, said Westerners often viewed his country through a distorted prism.

"People from your island see the post-Soviet space as being in the middle ages whose residents ride camels and horses."

Kazakhstan needed time to develop democracy, he added.

"British parliamentary democracy is 600 years old. It won't take us that long of course. Democracy for us is not the beginning of the journey but the end of the journey. We're moving forward."

(Editing by Elizabeth Piper)

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Comments (5)
Raymond.Vermont wrote:
Kazakhstan to Britain: Don’t lecture us on human rights

Further evidence that sanctimonious western political thinking is best left within the pages of the Guardian, and not in realpolitiking!

Jul 01, 2013 12:18pm BST  --  Report as abuse
meolive wrote:
Well, we do plenty of business with China, a country with some of the worst human rights violations on record, so I don’t see how this is any different. Cameron was an idiot for even bringing it up, to be frank.

Jul 01, 2013 1:04pm BST  --  Report as abuse
Bilboburgler wrote:
a democrats duty is to push democracy, to fail to do so is cowardice of the worst sort

Jul 01, 2013 1:18pm BST  --  Report as abuse
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